The Most Controversial Super Bowl Ad of the Year (So Far) Is Here

Esther Zuckerman

As Super Bowl ads start to trickle online in anticipation of Super Sunday, one spot is already facing a wave of criticism that could lead to its being pulled off the air during the big game. The ad comes from Volkswagen, a company that has made waves on Super Sunday for the past two years by way of adorable dogs and small Darth Vaders. This year, the German auto maker's commercial features a man from Minnesota speaking in a Jamaican accent: 

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The controversy got its start on CNN yesterday when Jamaican-born Christopher John Farley of the Wall Street Journal said: "Although I love you featuring Jimmy Cliff in the ad, a terrific Jamaican performance, the Jamaican accent did sort of strike me as Jar Jar Binks-ish." The New York Times's Charles Blow had a more intense reaction, saying the accent was "like blackface with voices." The commercial was discussed this morning on the Today show and their "ad expert" Barbara Lippert, the editor-at-large of, said "this is so racist." 

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VW America Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney has been defending the ad on CNN: "We did our homework to make sure we weren't offensive so we did some research to make sure we didn't go in a direction we didn't want to go." Additionally, Mahoney explained that they VW marketers talked to about 100 Jamaicans in the research phase and had a speech coach on hand. And there isn't unanimous outrage: On CNN, Soledad O'Brien said she liked it, the Today show couch was divided on opinion, and people on Twitter have been standing up for the ad: 

volkswagen's super bowl ad is NOT racist. i thought it was funny. my aunt/uncle from jamaica thought it was hilarious

— Oliver Willis (@owillis) January 29, 2013

people are upset because this white man sounds like a #Jamaican being happy in a #Volkswagen but white people live in Jamaica #todayShow

— (@JessicaLaShawn) January 29, 2013

This ad is not racist at all!!!! White ppl live here that speak Jamaican!…

— Jolene White (@JoTanishea) January 29, 2013

Is new Volkswagen ad funny or offensive? via @today > Jamaicans IN JAMAICA love this AD!! #dontbeacloudonasunnyday

— Josip Broz Tito (@josip2306) January 29, 2013

Of course, if the controversy becomes bigger than the ad itself, there's always the possibility that the commercial might not run on Game Day. On Today Savannah Guthrie said, "we heard that the ad agency, I guess anticipating that there may be controversy, has a couple of other back options in case VW pulls the ad." USA Today elaborated on the back-up ads in place